A Wilkinsburg man characterized last year by FBI agents as a Taliban sympathizer, has been sentenced to 94 months, or a little less than eight years, in prison for being a felon in possession of a firearm.
"I feel that a great injustice is being done to me, but I accept full responsibility," Khalifa Ali Al-Akili said Thursday before U.S. District Judge Mark Hornak.
"Whatever Allah has predestined is what's going to happen."
The case against Al-Akili, 35, has drawn national interest because a Washington-based group said the arrest was timed to prevent him from appearing at a news conference.
Al-Akili did not reference that allegation at his sentencing.
Formerly James Marvin Thomas Jr., Al-Akili has a criminal history including drug, gun and assault charges, the most recent in 2006. In March 2012, FBI agents arrested him based on photos and a video clip made by a friend that showed him holding a .22-caliber rifle at a shooting range in July 2010.
His attorney, assistant federal public defender Marketa Sims, said he "got caught up in the moment. [Friends] were firing a rifle down range. They gave it to him. He fired it down range. He had no intention of harming anyone or owning a firearm."
"You're not a first-time offender by any means," said Judge Hornak, in sentencing Al-Akili to a prison term that fell in the middle of the range suggested by federal guidelines.
At a preliminary hearing last year, FBI agents said that Al-Akili had pro-jihadi literature in his apartment and had made pro-Taliban statements.
The Washington-based National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms has said that it was prepared to host Al-Akili at a news conference set for March 16, 2012.
"He contacted us," Stephen Downs, executive director of the coalition of Muslim, civil rights and peace organizations, said Thursday. "He said, 'The FBI's following me around, trying to entrap me in some sort of scheme.' "
Mr. Downs said Al-Akili was preparing to name FBI informants at the press event.
His arrest prevented him from attending the news conference, Mr. Downs said. The coalition held the news conference without him.
Assistant U.S. Attorney James Wilson said little at the hearing and did not take questions afterward.mobilehome - breaking - neigh_east
Rich Lord: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1542 or Twitter @richelord.